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Oklahoma Sooners Football: A look at Oklahoma’s biggest position battles of spring practice

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The competition between Kyler Murray and Austin Kendall isn’t the only thing to keep an eye on this spring.

UTEP v Oklahoma Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

Finally, Spring Football is here! After two months sans college football, I know I’m ready for my fix. This time of year, all teams everywhere have a renewed sense of hope. There’s also an excitement that comes with change. For the Oklahoma Sooners, while the coaching staff has remained intact (for better or worse), many of the household names and team leaders have moved on. For several of those vacancies, the battle for the starting job will be a tight competition that starts in March and continues through August. So which positions are up for grabs, and which Sooners will be contending for each spot?

Quarterback

How on earth do you replace not only the Heisman Trophy winner, but perhaps the greatest player the University of Oklahoma has ever seen? Well, the torch has to be passed on to somebody, and the good news for the Sooners, there’s a guy in place that’s ready to keep this offense running. That guy is head coach Lincoln Riley. With Riley at the helm, the QB position is always going to be stocked with players who are more than capable of running one of the most dynamic offenses in the FBS. So who will it be now, post-Baker Mayfield?

Kyler Murray - Redshirt Jr.

Coming out of high school, Murray owned just about every Texas high school football record for a QB, and his teams never lost a game when he was the starter. After first deciding on Texas A&M, then transferring to Oklahoma after one season with the Aggies, Murray is finally ready to take over as the lead signal caller. Murray is also a dual-sport athlete, so while he’s practicing with the football team this spring, he’ll be playing baseball for the Sooners as well.

What Murray brings to the table is speed and a very live arm. He may not be quite as accurate as Mayfield, but nobody is. One of the biggest differences between he and Mayfield is mobility. Mayfield could scramble and make people miss, but Murray can fly. As important as anything is the fact that he‘s able to get into top gear in a blink.

Murray rushing the ball is nice, but like I mentioned earlier, he also possesses a ton of arm strength. If Murray does become starter, expect to see plenty more of this connection to Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown down the road:

So while Murray will never be the biggest guy on the field, he’s in prime position to become the next big man on campus.

Austin Kendall - Redshirt Soph.

Kendall redshirted last season after playing in his true freshman season, which is a bit unusual but also warranted by the circumstances. Since Kyler Murray was unavailable in 2016, Kendall was the next best option at QB behind Baker Mayfield. Once Murray was good to go, Kendall was able to learn from the sidelines without using up any of his eligibility, and according to Lincoln Riley, now has a real chance at beating Murray (and Tanner Schafer) for the starting job.

One thing is for sure — Kendall is definitely more of a pocket passer than Murray is and even more so than Mayfield was. Oklahoma has the weapons to accommodate any type of QB, so if Kendall shows that he’s ready to challenge Murray for the top spot this spring, this offense can certainly operate around his strengths.

The pick: Kyler Murray

H-Back

The departure of Dimitri Flowers might be the biggest loss on the team after losing Baker Mayfield. For everything he provided for the Sooner offense, there’s a lot of production that needs to be replaced if Oklahoma wants to keep humming along at a similar level. This position battle will surely be an intriguing one, since the H-Back is such a commodity within the Sooner offense.

Carson Meier - Redshirt Sr.

Meier is entering his fifth season at Oklahoma, and while he hasn’t recorded much stat-wise, he’s already proven he can block with the best of them. He’s also been honored with Academic All-Big 12 selections three years running. Keep in mind, Meier is a big man, much larger than Oklahoma's previous fullbacks, so he’ll definitely be able to hold his own on the field from a physicality standpoint. His ability as a receiver is yet to really be seen in competitive collegiate action, so look out for that this spring.

Jeremiah Hall - Redshirt Fr.

From a measurables standpoint, Hall is nearly identical to Flowers. If Hall doesn’t win the starting job to open the season, expect this competition to continue on throughout the fall. Once Hall has a firm grasp on the offense and his role, his utilization should soar, and the starting H-Back spot could be his for years to come.

The pick: Jeremiah Hall

Center

Erick Wren was a solid player at the center position for the Sooners, but now it’s time for a new keystone on the offensive line. There’s a good chance the next guy could be an upgrade, too, which should excite Sooner fans, and worry opposing D-lines.

Creed Humphrey - Redshirt Fr.

Humphrey was able to redshirt last season, but even before that, he was already receiving some very high praise from the coaches and his teammates for his physical maturity. Reportedly, the Shawnee native is one of the strongest guys on the team, so a mauler like him could do some damage at the center position like we haven’t seen at Oklahoma in a while. If Humphrey performs to his potential, he could be a four year starter type of guy.

Jonathan Alvarez - Redshirt Sr.

Alvarez was also able to redshirt last season, which places him among the most veteran players on the team. If Humphrey handles his business in the battle for starting center, Alvarez could also see time at the guard positions. Knowing that he’s a veteran who can step up in multiple roles should he be needed, but also push Humphrey and some of the other young guys to their max potential helps strengthen the depth of the O-line.

The pick: Creed Humphrey

Offensive Tackle

Orlando Brown’s departure to the NFL has left a mammoth-sized space on the field to replace. Fortunately for Oklahoma, Bill Bedenbaugh has done a tremendous job of recruiting across the offensive line, and there are plenty of viable options to step up in Brown’s vacancy. On Thursday, Riley mentioned the possibility of moving Dru Samia back out to tackle but also noted that they would strongly prefer to keep him at guard.

It should also be noted that Rice graduate transfer Calvin Anderson announces his decision on Saturday, so should he choose to transfer Oklahoma, he would certainly be on this list. However, we’re going to proceed as if he is not coming to Norman.

Bobby Evans has started at right tackle in Oklahoma’s last 26 games, and he’s done an excellent job at protecting the right side of the offensive line. With Orlando Brown gone, and no obvious back-up currently in place to start at left tackle, expect the experienced Evans to get a good look on the left side.

Quinn Mittermeier - Redshirt Sr.

Mittermeier is entering his third season at Oklahoma after transferring from the junior college ranks and saw special teams action in the final 12 games of last season. His experience gives him a slight advantage over some of the younger players, but it will also help push the younger guys.

Adrian Ealy - Redshirt Fr.

Ealy definitely has the look of a left tackle at the Power 5 level. He was listed as a four-star recruit by several recruiting services coming out of high school and he was able to redshirt last season to further develop his body and adjust to the collegiate game. If Ealy doesn’t earn the starting job, he may still get a crack at some point.

Brey Walker - Freshman (not yet on campus)

Walker is an incoming five-star recruit that figures to be the future of the left tackle position, but since he won’t be arriving to campus until the summer, he won’t have a chance to compete for the spot this spring. If he shows up and shows out in the fall, he could have a chance to see the field. However, earning an offensive tackle spot as a true freshman is a tall task, especially for one who is still a bit raw.

By the way, did you laugh out loud at the clip above, too? I almost feel bad for the little guy. Ouch.

Erik Swenson - Redshirt So.

Swenson is known nationally as the former Michigan commit who was let loose by Jim Harbaugh after Mr. Khakis took the job in Ann Arbor. You can do a hell of a lot worse than Oklahoma as far as a landing spot is concerned, and he now has a real shot to earn a tackle spot.

The pick: Adrian Ealy

JACK Linebacker

Oklahoma has had the recent luxury of some stud edge rushers like Eric Striker and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. Now it’ll be another guy’s turn to make a name for himself at the glamorous defensive end/linebacker hybrid position known as the JACK.

Mark Jackson - Junior

Jackson has the most experience out of the guys expected to compete for the JACK position, and he’s been solid in his limited opportunities. Jackson recorded a sack against Ohio State and forced a fumble against Kansas last season, so he’ll be looking to build off of that starting this spring.

Addison Gumbs - Sophomore

Gumbs was a highly rated recruit coming into last season, and he showed his potential in his very limited opportunities, mostly in garbage time. Gumbs has great height and length, which allows him to be highly effective coming off the edge.

K’Jakyre Daley - Redshirt Fr.

Daley isn’t the biggest guy of the options here, nor was he as highly rated coming out of high school as some of the other guys he’s competing against, but his natural ability to rush off the edge won’t be overlooked by the coaches this spring.

Jalen Redmond - Freshman

Redmond is the dark horse candidate to watch in this battle. A basketball player turned blue-chip football recruit, Redmond has the size and the freakish athleticism to be a terror off the edge. If he can quickly adjust to the speed of the game, Redmond should see the field in a hurry. Oh, and he’ll be wearing Ogbo’s old number at OU...

The pick: Addison Gumbs

WILL Linebacker

The undersized but overachieving Emmanuel Beal has used up his eligibility, which means the coaching staff must find someone else to take over the WILL linebacker position. Stay tuned, folks, there could be a surprise shift in the linebacker corps this season.

Kenneth Murray (???) - Sophomore

Surprise! Granted, Lincoln Riley mentioned that he’s penciled in at the MIKE spot for now, but that isn’t set in stone.

So last season, Murray started every game as a true freshman at middle linebacker. With MIKE linebacker Jon-Michael Terry returning from an injury suffered in fall camp last year, the coaches have wanted to take a look at Murray at the WILL spot. Murray looked great in some instances in the middle, but looked like a true freshman in others (that’s not a good thing). Changing over to the weak side may be more of a fit for Murray, as it would allow him to be a bit more of a playmaker. If the move does happen, the competition at this spot will obviously cease to exist.

Curtis Bolton - Redshirt Sr.

After suffering an ankle injury against Baylor, Bolton missed most of the 2017 season. Bolton has mostly seen time on special teams, but his familiarity with the playbook should play a factor into this competition. Also, his seniority will help push whoever else he competes against this spring. He’s not a huge dude, but a guy with his motor should never be counted out

Levi Draper - Redshirt Fr.

After showing up in Norman a bit undersized, Draper ended up having shoulder surgery and redshirting in 2017. By all accounts, size is no longer much of an issue with him. Additionally, he seems to be back to full strength.

The pick: Hmm... I’ll wait.

Nickel

Will Johnson’s graduation leaves the nickel spot open and up for grabs. With what Mike Stoops has done in the past (I know, I know), the nickel package is one of the Sooners’ more utilized sets, and in the pass-happy Big 12, having that extra defensive back can make a world of difference.

There are a number of ways Oklahoma can go with this. Will they utilize a non-starter, or will they move a starter over in nickel situations?

Brendan “Bookie” Radley-Hiles - Freshman

Radley-Hiles, better known as ‘Bookie,’ was one of Oklahoma top signees of the 2018 recruiting class and figures to make an immediate impact on the field in 2018. He’s a ball-hawking DB who can play virtually any position in the secondary, and according to many, is the favorite to take over as the Sooners’ next starting nickel.

Prentice McKinney - Senior

McKinney is entering his fourth year, but does not have a ton of playing experience to date. He’s a stout defensive back, and knowing that the nickel position is a potential spot to carve out a role, he should make a strong push. The decision at that position will definitely be one of the most interesting storylines to watch play out this spring.

As I mentioned above, there are a number of potential options here — including Chanse Sylvie, Kahlil Haughton or Robert Barnes. Perhaps one of the backup corners (Tre Brown?) could carve out a role here, as well.

The pick: Bookie Radley-Hiles

Cornerback

Even though Jordan Thomas was replaced in early November, the competition to nail down that cornerback spot is still ongoing. Fortunately for Oklahoma, depth at the corner position should not be as much of a concern this time around.

Jordan Parker - Redshirt So.

Parker was thrown into the fire in his true freshman season but eventually turned into a quality option in the secondary. But that was in 2016. Last year, Parker suffered a season ending knee injury in the opener against UTEP. He’s is close to 100% back but will be limited in the spring.

Tre Brown - Sophomore

Brown is a little undersized from a height standpoint, but he’s a thumper that plays with an edge. Brown had to step up last season after Oklahoma’s secondary was depleted by injuries and whatnot, but he did well for himself in his limited opportunities. I expect Brown to be somewhere in the rotation if he isn’t named a starter.

Tre Norwood - Sophomore

Out of the two sophomore DBs named Tre, Norwood is definitely less of a thumper but has some good instincts. Norwood has the slight height advantage over Brown, but his body could use a bit more developing in the strength program. I’d expect to see some necessary changes in that area this offseason, which will benefit him immensely.

Brendan “Bookie” Radley-Hiles - Freshman

Once again, the guy who figures to be a future star in the Sooners’ secondary, Radley-Hiles will also be firmly in contention for the vacant cornerback spot opposite Motley. Some how, some way, Bookie will find a way to see the field this fall. Dare I say, book it? Sorry not sorry for the awful pun.

The pick: Tre Norwood

Strong Safety

Long time starter and team captain Steven Parker has finally moved on, leaving quite the void in the Sooner’s young secondary. Luckily for Oklahoma, the leading competitors won’t be green to the program.

Kahlil Haughton - Senior

Haughton has five career starts, including four last season, so he has the edge over anybody else on the roster at this position as far as experience is concerned. That being said, Haughton, like everybody else on the team, understands that playing time is not guaranteed. If Haughton is to start for Oklahoma this fall, he will have earned the right to.

Chanse Sylvie - Junior

Sylvie is an interesting player because while he’s slightly smaller than Haughton, he’s seen action in 25 games over his first two seasons. Because of that, Sylvie should have a sound understanding of both safety positions, which will provide Haughton with a formidable challenge.

Bookie

Now get this, apparently Brendan-Radley Hiles is working with the safeties, so the coaching staff clearly wants to see what he can do across the secondary. Like I said before, Bookie is too good to keep off the field, and with the lack of quality depth at the safety positions, it’s no surprise he’s getting a look there as well.

The pick: Kahlil Haughton or Bookie

Free Safety

Once again, Will Johnson is leaving not only the nickel position open, he was also the team’s starting free safety. There aren’t as many obvious options at the safety positions as there are cornerback candidates heading into this spring, but if the starters can remain relatively healthy, the lack of depth and experience shouldn’t hurt the Sooners too much.

Robert Barnes - Sophomore

Barnes was a four/five-star recruit coming into last year, and he showed flashes of his potential after being thrown into the fire when the Sooners were suddenly in dire need of defensive backs. Now coming into his first spring training camp, Barnes should flourish as the game begins to slow down for him. If Barnes wants to start at free safety for the Sooners, it’s probably his job to lose.

Chanse Sylvie - Junior

Sylvie will be competing for both safety spots, but coming into the spring, the free safety spot is pretty much Barnes’ to lose. In any case, Sylvie should at the very least serve as a primary back-up this fall, so his availability is still vital for the defense.

The pick: Robert Barnes

This spring will reveal a lot in regards to which players have the edge in their respective position battles, but tough competition like this will only make this team that much better on Saturdays, when they’ll no longer be competing against each other, but rather the unfortunate opponents who have to line up against the Oklahoma Sooners.

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